Using Assessments to Inform Instruction

6.3 Designing Student Assessments to Inform Planning. Student learning and growth is highly dependent on a teacher understanding what her students know and what they need to know. In order to create plans for individual student growth, teachers should know where their students are at in order to help them achieve progress. During my internship, I have seen how teachers measure the progress of their students and use assessments to gauge what material their students are understanding and not understanding. Figure 1 shows three student responses to a question from the homework after a lesson on converting fractions to decimals. In the assignment, students should have been able to convert the fraction to a mixed number and then to a decimal greater than one whole. However, about half of my students wrote that Thirty Six Tenths Compilationthe decimal was .36, which was incorrect, and many explained how to physically write the number they came up with rather than a mathematical explanation. I was able to see several patterns while looking over these: some students had misconceptions about tenths and hundredths, some were not reading the problem carefully enough, and some were struggling with the mathematical explanation. I used this knowledge to plan my next math lesson, which helped to clarify some of these misconceptions and challenges for students. Another short assessment (in the form of a quick check) helped me to determine who understood the second lesson, and I was able to see who made progress since the first. Working with continuous informal assessments has helped me to really plan and customize the learning of my internship class, and monitor student progress.

I have learned through this experience that not only is using assessment to plan instruction helpful, but necessary. Had I assumed that all my students did their homework and were correct (or hadn’t assigned it), I would not have found out that most of the class was unclear about how to change an improper fraction to a decimal, and we would have moved on. Many students would have struggled in later topics or on the final unit assessment, but since I was able to assess and plan for the misconceptions, most students will be successful in future units. For those students who did not understand the second lesson, I will work with individually. One way I can improve in this area is by speaking with students one-on-one to see exactly where the misconception is. For some students this may be different than for others, and I only have a general idea of where many students went wrong. In order to truly differentiate, I would need to inquire further into the wrong answer and how students arrived at it.

 

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Course Meta-Reflection

Throughout this course, we have discussed the possibilities of an integrated curriculum and its effects on student learning. I have been interested in the idea, but have felt that while it would be beneficial to students, it is a challenge for teachers to create and implement an integrated curriculum. In my internship, I have had opportunities to explore some of these possibilities, and while I still am unsure about whether creating such a curriculum is practical as far as time goes for teachers, I think that it is something I’d like to try in my own teaching.

While teaching the lessons I wrote for this class in my internship, I was able to see first-hand student growth and learning. Students were noticeably engaged and still talk about the lessons, even identifying the shapes we learned in our art lesson in other art forms. Had I been given an opportunity to, I think that our unit on Pacific Northwest Coast peoples would have been benefited from a field trip to Burke Museum. Students could have seen and experienced far more than my photos of the art and their own drawings, making their learning experiential and engaging. Tomorrow, they will be given the opportunity to read about the early plateau people, and we will be connecting this learning to our measurement unit in math. They will measure a length of our playground and calculate how many times they would need to walk its length in order to walk a mile so they can experience for themselves how far a mile is. This is in connection with a people who walked for miles each day.

During this course, I have reflected on the complexities and difficulties of creating an integrated curriculum in my classroom, especially with the Common Core State Standards and the SBAC standardized testing coming up. At times I have felt that it is too challenging, especially for my first year in teaching, and at other times I feel that it is the only way to really teach kids. I am curious about whether a hybrid of “regular” teaching along with teaching integrated units-that is, integrating them as often as I can but not necessarily always-would work. Perhaps this is what I shall try. For now, I am excited about our combination math and social studies lesson tomorrow, and will hope for the best.

Reflecting on the Effectiveness of Instruction

2.3 Reflecting on Teaching

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Figure 1

During my classes and internship, I have come to realize the importance of reflecting on the effectiveness of a lesson and how effective it was in achieving the desired outcomes. I had the opportunity to teach the same art lesson three times and adapt my lesson based on feedback from the previous lessons. Figure 1 shows an example of student work from the first lesson, while Figure 2 shows an example from the second lesson. The objectives of the lesson were for students to use space and color effectively, and use the shapes found in Pacific

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Figure 2

Northwest Coast Native American art. By comparing Figure 1 and Figure 2, it is easy to see how the objectives of the lesson were more clearly met in lesson two, where I adapted my lesson to specifically state these objectives and reiterate them throughout the lesson. I had also provided students with drawing aids to share in pairs rather than a single drawing aid on the board. After reflecting on the second lesson and why it had better results, I was able to make the third lesson even more successful in terms of reaching the objectives. I can apply this to lessons I don’t re-teach as well, by reflecting on the effectiveness of my instruction and using it to make changes to the way I teach or interact with students. By reflecting on my teaching, my students will benefit from a richer experience, and one that is planned well. When reflecting on my instruction in the future, it will be important for me to reflect also on how the students reacted, and what worked well for them so that I can apply that knowledge to all subjects (and not just the same lesson).

Student-Centered Project Based Learning

When I was in high school, my classes were all oriented around a theme (which changed every quarter), which we used as a focus for all of our learning. Even in subjects like math and literacy, our learning was focused on a theme (the environment, inventions, commerce, etc.). We designed projects according to these themes, and connected our learning across all subjects. Without realizing it, I had gone to a school with an integrated curriculum, which was reached through project-based learning (PBL).

I didn’t realize it at the time (in fact, I didn’t realize it until I started taking classes about PBL and integrated curriculum) mainly because no one ever told me that this was what we were doing. I didn’t know what standards were or that I was supposed to meet them, I didn’t understand the work my teachers put into integrating our curriculum, and I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I just floated through, not really knowing or caring why I was being taught the way I was. Reflecting on this, I think that one of the things that could have made my learning more powerful was if I had known what the standards were that I was trying to meet, and if I had been able to help design some of the themes and curricula myself (or collaboratively with my class).

Newsome Park Elementary School in Virginia had some success with this type of model, where students help design the work they will be involved in. They designed a curriculum that “blends authentic, real-world experiences with rigorous academic study” (Drake and Burns, 2004), but to do so the teachers guided the students to a shared learning experience through a three-phase process. Phase one is for planning, two is for fieldwork, and three is for sharing the learning. Students were involved in all three aspects of these phases, allowing for a more enriching learning experience, even in elementary school! Students and teachers alike reflected on the experience and they found that it was a positive experience for everyone, despite the extra time it took on the teachers’ parts. I think that despite the time, it could be incredibly beneficial to everyone to incorporate students into the planning process and to include them in their own learning. The PBL part of my high school stopped after only 6 years of operation, mainly because the teachers were burnt out from all the extra time it took (among other things). Hopefully, with students involved, that would lower the likelihood of something similar happening in other PBL schools.

Drake, S., Burns, S. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Using Standards to Write an Integrated Curriculum

The reading this week addressed many of the concerns I had when I was writing for last week’s blog post. I had wondered about how to find a common thread and plan for an integrated curriculum, especially with regard to the standards and the SBAC. One of the suggestions  in our textbook was to first find a common thread running through the standards (Drake and Burns, 2004). In their example, the teachers found that many of the standards across multiple subjects promoted similar research skills, and they were able to apply these to their theme, which was medieval times. I am now wondering if this can be applied to any grade and any theme.

They also suggested presenting the curriculum as a whole, but addressing each subject area separately for report card grading. For example, though they may be writing about how the people of the time were similar or different from the people of our time, and were learning research skills to do so, the writing itself is what the teachers would score for report cards. Their evaluation was an engaging and fun medieval fair that other classes were also invited to, and was something the students knew would be happening at the beginning of the unit.

What’s interesting to me is that academically, the students did very well, achieving standard or above standard across the board. They were learning both the content that the teachers thought was important, as well as the skills that were a part of standards. The students were also given chances to reflect on the work and show their higher-order thinking skills. Although the teachers were locked into their standards, they were in fact able to create an integrated curriculum that worked incredibly well for their students. I’d like to see one in action, especially one that uses Washington state standards.

Writing an Integrated Curriculum

This week, I decided to reflect a bit on the process of writing up an integrated unit plan, as I have been attempting to do so with the class I’m student teaching in. This week’s reading was about how to go about planning the integrated curriculum, but I’m finding that with everything that is required by district, state, and school, this is much more challenging than I’d initially thought. Aside from finding the common thread running through numerous different curricula, the work is put on the teachers to teach core subjects in a way that relates to that common theme. For example, in math, we are teaching adding and subtracting mixed numbers, as well as multiplying unit fractions by whole numbers. I can give my students themed problems to solve, but the math itself doesn’t seem to lend itself very well to an integrated curriculum. The topics do not show up organically, but are instead forced into the theme. In this, I am not sure if it is still in the spirit of the integrated curriculum.

In addition, I am concerned with the time constraints of writing an integrated curriculum. Considering all of the standards teachers need to address, especially in grades 3 and up, it seems almost impossible to write or create an integrated curriculum. I am student teaching in 4th grade, and most of what we are working on in class is geared toward the students doing well on the SBAC exams. I have heard the time after the SBAC referred to as the time “when teaching becomes fun again”. It is sad to me that standardized testing could have such an effect on whether or not teachers create an integrated curriculum. I am curious as to whether these topics can be addressed easily. Will the standards truly have such a strong impact on integrated curriculum?